Should you buy that plane ticket? These 3 questions can help you stop agonizing
If you sometimes feel as though the world is conspiring against you and your flight plans, wonder no more. It is — but for different reasons, although all fall under the banner of the “state of the world.”
First is the cost of a ticket. Second is the cost to the environment.
Here are the questions you must ask yourself before you decide whether your trip is a no or a go in 2020.
Cost of a ticket, Part 1
Let’s say I want to fly to Melbourne, Fla., which is a smaller airport that’s much more convenient than Orlando for many resort areas on the eastern coast. I would leave Feb. 3, a Monday, and return Feb. 10, also a Monday.
I held my breath and found a fare of $202.
I would have purchased it but for two things: It had flight times of almost 15 hours there and almost 21 hours back, and it was a basic economy ticket.
Only you can decide whether your money is worth the extra time, but a15-hour trip that lands you in Melbourne, Fla., doesn’t promise the same rewards as a lengthy trip that lands you in Melbourne, Australia.
Let’s say you don’t want to spend more time in an airport. The next best fare I found that would not consume my trip with layovers was $94 more, but it was still basic economy.
Basic economy has been the response by legacy airlines (such as United, Delta and American) to ultra-low-cost carriers, including Frontier, Allegiant and Spirit. As tempting as it is to believe that these low-cost carriers nickel and dime you to death, they also give you better fares in many cases if you understand the rules.
The legacy carriers don’t play as much hardball as the ultra-lows (they don’t charge you to print a boarding pass, for instance), but even with a legacy basic fare, you don’t get as many opportunities to ensure your well-being. You don’t get to choose your seats in advance, and you’ll lose your fare if you can’t make the trip.
On the other hand, said Seth Kaplan, a longtime transportation analyst, you get the same seatback entertainment, you get a carry-on bag for free (on American and Delta, not on United) and maybe even a snack. That’s why he and his family took a basic economy flight from the Washington, D.C., area to Montana, saving them about $200. The fact that you can’t choose your seat in advance? “As a family, we almost always get seated together,” he said.
Would I pay $366 to fly to Melbourne, Fla., or I would I choose the $296 with a better schedule but still a basic fare?
The question you need to ask yourself: What’s my pain point? Identify it and choose accordingly.
Cost of a ticket, Part 2
As the year began, fuel prices were relatively stable and had been for some time. Then trouble erupted in the Middle East and fuel prices shot up overnight. Then they settled back down.
It’s important to keep a watch on those prices. As Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations for fare website CheapOair, has told me more than once, about 25% of the cost of a ticket is the cost of jet fuel.
The International Air Transport Assn., an airline industry group, makes it easy for you to keep track. Check out its Jet Fuel Price Monitor at bit.ly/jetfuelmonitor.
If you begin to see a steady, consistent increase, it’s best to buy now because it takes four to six months for those prices to cycle into the cost of a ticket, Kaplan and Spagnola said. “It’s not as though you can just introduce a price change the next day,” Kaplan said.
The question you need to ask yourself: How is my risk tolerance? Do I dare buy a ticket this far out? Should I buy travel insurance?
Cost to the environment
Here’s great news for the airlines, courtesy of Spagnola: Nearly 4.75 billion passenger trips are expected worldwide this year. That would be a record, and an increase of 137% since 2004.
That’s not necessarily great news for the environment. Although the airline industry isn’t the leading offender, it’s the growth in emissions from air travel that are at issue, William Wilkes wrote in a March Bloomberg article.
“All of these forecasts are terrifying climate scientists and activists who say increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are leading to rising temperatures, more extreme weather and higher death tolls from natural disasters caused at least in part by human activity,” Wilkes wrote. He then quoted Paul Fennel, a professor of clean energy at Imperial College in London, as saying, “We are all going to have to reduce the extent to which we fly.”
Enter flight shaming, which means you are wringing your hands over your carbon footprint and deciding perhaps you won’t take that trip.
The idea has been gaining momentum since about 2017 and may be having an effect, according to the BBC. Domestic travel dropped 4% in Sweden in 2019, which the BBC cites as the country of origin for flygskam, or flight shaming.
In July, KLM asked people to reduce their air travel, suggesting train travel in its place.
That’s a concept that works in the Netherlands and most of Europe a little better than it does in the United States. You can get to Paris from London (about 300 miles) by EuroStar in a little more than two hours. If you took Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from L.A. to San Francisco (about 380 miles), you could leave L.A. at 10:10 a.m. and get to San Francisco about 10:30 p.m., with the last of the trip by bus.
It’s not just that we don’t have high-speed trains; it’s the distances you must cover in this country if you’re headed for points east.
If you fly, several airlines let you buy carbon offsets, including Delta, United and JetBlue.
Or you could plant trees. In a study, 1st Move International calculated how many trees you would need to plant to mitigate a trip from the United Kingdom to various places, then recalculated for LAX: to New York City (seven), to Tokyo (15), to London (16) and to Bangkok, Thailand (23).
Should you fly? Not fly? Kaplan notes that even if you’re not on that flight, it will take off anyway — at least for now.
Until we have clean-air jets, this is going to be an increasingly large issue.
The question you need to ask yourself: Can I live with myself if I go? As a traveler, can I live with myself if I don’t?
Have a travel dilemma, question or concern? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.